The NeoLucida is a modern reinterpretation of the camera lucida, a 19th century optical drawing aid. It superimposes an image of your subject onto your paper. You see your pencil and your subject at the same time. Trace what you see!
In 2013, along with fellow Art Professor Golan Levin, I launched the NeoLucida project on Kickstarter. Our goal was to make this amazing—but obsolete—tool available again. We hoped there was a small group of art/tech/history nerds like us who might want to try a camera lucida, but couldn’t afford a vintage one. To our surprise, over 11,000 (!) backers helped us make many more NeoLucidas than we ever planned. Most had never heard of a camera lucida; they just wanted to draw and the NeoLucida gave them an entry point. We scaled up production by bringing Kickstarter veteransBig I Design on board as manufacturing partners. We even won a prestigious Core77 Design Award along the way! There are now over 25,000 NeoLucidas helping people in 90 countries draw from real life.
“Um, this is hard!”
One thing became clear from the feedback. People said,“This is harder than I thought!” We said, “We know!” After all, the original NeoLucida copied the prism design of vintage 19th century camera lucidas, which made sharp, clear images, but has a tiny viewing area. To us, it supported the idea that great artists of the past were still incredibly skilled; using a tool wasn’t “cheating.” This was a provocativemedia archeology project: NeoLucida users could test what it was like to be an artist 200 years ago.
But thousands of people were just excited by using a tool that might make drawing a little less frustrating. Many people appreciated the art history story, but they just wanted to draw. Maybe they used to draw and gave up as a teenager. Maybe they never learned to draw but always wanted to. Many parents wanted to support their kids’ creative impulses. The NeoLucida offered an accessible and inexpensive motivation to draw.
I was inspired. Years of lecturing and running NeoLucida drawing workshops in a half-dozen countries gave me direct exposure with hundreds of aspiring artists. With all the feedback in mind, I went back to the drawing board.
After two years of research and testing prototypes, the NeoLucida is back! People asked for a larger viewing area, but why stop there? The all new design has an extra large viewer to make drawing from life just a bit easier. Say hello to the NeoLucida XL.
How does it work?
The main suggestion we got for the original NeoLucida was: “Can’t you just make the prism bigger?” Actually, no. When you look into the prism, you look at the exposed edge of the prism. It doesn’t matter how big the prism is, you still look at the edge. And as the prism gets bigger, the more the image shifts when you move your head. This is bad for tracing (trust me, we made and tried larger prisms. No good). To make the viewing area bigger, the NeoLucida would have to be completely redesigned. Ditch the prism and find other materials to create the ghost reflections.
The NeoLucida XL uses mirror and glass to combine a virtual ghost image of your subject and the real view of your hand. Setting it up is easy:
- Clamp the NeoLucida XL to a table or sturdy drawing board.
- Bend the adjustable gooseneck so that the viewer is facing your subject and positioned over your paper.
- Look straight down into the viewer to see your page and a ghost image of your subject superimposed.
- Trace what you see!
Part of your vision goes through the glass to your pencil. Simultaneously, part of your vision bounces off the glass, then the first-surface mirror, then out to your subject. The result is a ghost image on your page.